A Nerd in the Big City

I spent a strange and wonderful extended weekend with my dear friend Sofie in New York City a couple of weeks ago.  Sofie lives in Denmark and is in the States doing an internship just for the semester.  She’s a neurobiologist. Isn’t that amazing?  I wasn’t going to miss out on a chance to see her, nor on the chance for a weekend’s free lodging in the City.

I’d never been to New York around the holidays before, so it was neat to see the town all decked out in lights.  Still, neither of us really feel like doing the tourist romp, so mostly we just talked in restaurants, walked around in the cold and in the crowds, went on random adventures in Brooklyn, and to the Met.

Oh, the Met.  I love the Met.

I love all museums, really.  I caught the bug in Paris, when the Louvre was my greatest friend on lonely, rainy Sunday afternoons.  I have the museum trip down to an art (sorry, pun, couldn’t help myself).

Wake up early, with not too much sleep under your belt.  Eat a big breakfast, but skip lunch.  Down two shots of espresso beforehand, drink a glass of water, and bring your water bottle in your bag.  Bring a notebook and pen.  Make sure your camera has batteries, that and your shoes don’t squeak.  Bring a sweater.  And your game face.

When Karen and I went to the Chicago Art Institute a month ago, we were there for nearly seven hours.  I’m freaking hardcore about museums.  Going with Sofie, though, I had to scale it down a bit.  I had to disconnect and decide analytically what parts were most worth seeing.  That was hard to do–very hard.  A bit like that movie, Sophie’s Choice.

God, sorry.  I guess it’s Bad Pun Night.

I locked eyes with the recognizable face of Emperor Constantine from across a room.

And these Mesopotamian winged door guardians reminded me, once again, of Paris.  I used to take my journal down to the Louvre and spend and hour or two writing amongst the ancient stone lovelies.

I am the luckiest woman in the world.

I might have been most excited to see Manet’s Dead Christ with Angels, however.  There was an embarrassing moment in which I loudly whispered “Yess!!” and did a series of elaborate fist-pumps in a room full of baffled tourists, much to Sofie’s chagrin.

As I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear, we also made appearances at two cathedrals–one Catholic, one Anglican–St. Patrick’s downtown and St. John The Divine up near Columbia, where Sofie lives.  It was strange, in both places–half of my brain was going, hm, this is interesting.  They really made this look like a gothic cathedral.  Too bad it’s not.  But still, very nice.

The other half of my brain was going, &*%$#@%!! nghhhhashhfaaagkhl!

I realize I’m really making it sound like I dragged poor Sofie to all the standard Rachael nerd-gasam places around the City, but I swear to you, the majority of the time was spent being at least somewhat normal–talking and talking and talking and talking in various locations throughout the city.  I’m telling you–that gal and I, we have twin brains.  Nothing in common save a love for travel and adventure, but somehow, twin brains.  We could talk until 3am every day of the week, and back when we lived in the same dorm, we practically did.

But there was one place she was wise enough to let me conquer on my own.  Oh yes, yes indeed.  Finally, after years of waiting, I was able to go to (and by go to I mean devourThe Cloisters, the Met’s orgy of medieval art and architecture, housed in its own Romanesque-revival building on the Up-Up-Upper West Side.

It’s a marvel, a building literally built around the doorways and arches and statues and cloisters (columned walkways around a courtyard that are the center of social life in a monastery) it houses.  Furthermore, it is a refuge not only for a priceless collection, but also for a desperate would-be scholar such as myself–and in my current state of pseudo-despair, a little like reaching those oft mentioned “Undying Lands” in the West.  A taste of what life once was and, simultaneously, how it could be in the magical land of Graduate School, if I should ever be so extremely blessed.

One cloister, from Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa in the Pyrenees, I even wrote a paper on back in my junior year.  I spent a good hour walking around and around and around it–slowly, listening to polyphonic chant on my iPod, and pretending to be a monk.  I have a serious illness.  Medieval monk-fever.

And the only cure… is more medieval madness.  And by medieval madness, I mean books.  On my way out I bought a book.  A really, really good book.  The book is called Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages, and it is by Carolyn Walker Bynum–one of the top medieval historians of the day, and the sort of person I could never study with in graduate school, because I would end up drooling too much and ruining all of her research materials.

(Hannah Montana is to thirteen-year-old girls as Carolyn Walker Bynum is to your truly.)

I’ve been devouring this book all week at work and have also cracked into a book I bought in Paris: La Spiritualité du Moyen Age occidental, by André Vauchez.  Bynum references him pretty heavily.  Combined, the two are leaving me more and more intrigued, more and more inspired, more and more wishing I had a time machine to take me to the twelfth century, and, most of all, more and more desperate to get the heck out of this hotel and into my own cloister where I can study and study and study with my dusty tomes.

My anxiety grows daily as I come closer and closer to finding out if I got into Teach For America.  I’m the type of girl who likes to think that no matter what happens, if I keep my eyes open and actively accept the plan God has for me, I will be happy.  I really do believe this.  But at the same time, some nights (like tonight, obviously) I think I would forsake everything, would do anything to have my master plan work out.

Teach For America to pay off my debt and to give back to society.  Then farm with WWOOF for a year in Europe–learn to speak French–and walk the Via Podiensis.  Maybe spend a few months as a hospitalero along the Way, who knows.  Then back–and seven years of graduate school.

I know life is what happens when you’re busy making plans and all that but–even so–you know that feeling of having a dream that just completely consumes you?  Some days it is all I think about, and it actually hurts I want it so much.  Talking to Sofie tends to make the most content of us seek great things, I think, and since I returned from New York, my mind just won’t shut up.


~ by Rachael on December 18, 2010.

4 Responses to “A Nerd in the Big City”

  1. You didn’t tell me about the ANCIENT MESOPOTAMIAN WINGED DOOR GUARDIANS!!!

    I need them for my castle.

    Also, I need a castle.

  2. I love your blog–dead turkeys in a stock tank in one post and winged Mesopostamian thingies in the next.

    Oh, and I bought The Bede! Can we meet after Christmas?

    • Thanks Deb :) I don’t even try to be this random, I swear.

      And yes, we definitely, *definitely* need to meet after Chrismas. Just say where and when.

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